Iowa Central Railroad

Superintendent: Douglas Harding
          NOTE: we have new a email address and a new website location

This model railroad is based upon a combination of historical fact and fiction. I have use modeler's license to alter actual history. In my history the Chicago Burlington & Quincy acquired the Iowa Central Railroad in 1906. This was soon after the CB&Q began consolidating its other railroad holdings in 1904. The CB&Q saw the Iowa Central as a direct link to her sister Railroads in the Twin Cities, the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern.

Prototype History

During is final years the original Iowa Central Railway was under the control of Edwin Hawley (1859-1912) who became the IaC president in 1900. At the time of this acquisition Hawley was the owner of the Minneapolis & St Louis Railway, having become the M&StL's president in 1896. Hawley was also on the Colorado & Southern Board of Directors, as an investor in C&S, at the time it was sold to the CB&Q. During the Hawley administration the IaC was controlled and later purchased by the M&StL, giving the M&StL it's famous Peoria Gateway. Hawley unexpected died in 1912 while trying to merge his M&StL with several other Midwest railroads.

The Iowa Central Railroad ran from Albia, Iowa (near the Missouri border) north to Northwood, Iowa (near the Minnesota border). Branches were built to Newton, Laural, Story City, and Corwith, all towns in Iowa. The all important mainline turned East at Oskaloosa and terminated in Peoria, Ill with connections to many eastern railroads.

For information on the M&StL go to Lyndon Groth's website at: Here you will find some of the best info on the web as related to the area I am modeling, including the original Iowa Central.

Another good site for M&StL info is Sam Cook’s at

Don Ross's site offers photos of many of M&StL RS-1s. They had 35 in nine different original paint schemes. Some were later repainted into M&StL Red & White, and again later into C&NW Green & Yellow.

My Iowa Central Model History

In my history the CB&Q was looking for a more direct connection with its sister roads the NP & GN in the Twin Cities. Hawley's railroads, the M&StL and that all important IaC, gave it that connection via Albia, Iowa, a CB&Q town. By altering history and transferring ownership of the IaC to the CB&Q, my version of the IaC has become a stronger property with strong connections and much bridge traffic.

This altered history allows me to purchase CB&Q equipment, including CB&Q decals, along with M&StL items. I am also planning to resurrect the long gone IaC herald and update it for use on home road equipment. I also have the freedom to use non-prototypical steam engines (hard to find for the M&StL, and limited for the CB&Q), as the "modern" IaC power. This prototype freelancing also allows me to enhance the traffic patterns and on line industry along this north south line making it a prosperous and profitable line.

I model the original mainline of the Iowa Central, which ran from Albia to Mason City. The following towns or locations are built on the layout, from South to North: Albia, Bridgeport (Iowa Southern Utilities Power Plant), Eddyville, "Peoria Junction", Oskaloosa, Grinnell, Marshalltown, Ackley, and Mason City.

The layout as shown in the posted photos (I have moved portions of the layout seven times) resided in a 30' x 50' basement. I don’t have an accurate track plan, but have created schematics of the layout, and each town. Mason City is the north terminal of the railroad and consists of the large yard visible when you come down the stairs. Albia, the southern end of the modeled area, is at the far end of the basement, surrounding the furnace. Peoria is represented by staging tracks that run below and behind Albia. Staging for the Chicago & North Western and Chicago Great Western interchanges with the IaC at Marshalltown are along the basement wall behind the Wabash trackage at Albia. These interchange tracks enter the layout through the backdrop and represent two legs of a visible wye. Other interchanges found on the layout include the Illinois Central at Ackley, the Rock Island at Grinnell, and the Wabash at Albia. At Mason City direct interchanges take place with the Milwaukee, and the electric inter-urban line, the Mason City and Clear Lake. Interchanges with the Rock Island the Chicago Great Western at Mason City are via the MC&CL.

Photo's of the layout: going North from Albia to Mason City:


Albia Yard



Oskaloosa South End


Oskaloosa Yard at the North End


Overview of Layout Grinnell is on left

Marshalltown South End/Yard

Marshalltown Swift line



Ackley 2

Mason City Mason City South End


Decker Meat Plant at Mason City Mason City North End

Decker's Switch Job Decker's Meat Plant


Current and Future Plans

Current and Future projects include:

         The north end of Mason City includes a completely revamped Decker's Meat plant, Photo: Deckers area as Modeled the three track interchange yard with the Chicago Great Western for serving the Lehigh Cement Plant and North Western States Cement along with American Crystal Sugar. The yard at Mason City has been reduced from 10 tracks to 8 tracks, to make room for the local industries around the depot area. The Decker Meat plant had all track installed and operating as of July 2001. The plant will hold about 30 cars, with multiple spots. According to Clark Propst this plant was a real puzzle to switch. Switch crews had to know how long each car and commodity took to load or unload, as many cars were moved/spotted more than once. Cars also had to be moved to get to other commodity spots along the same track. For more information on the Decker Meat Plant, including Clark’s, vivid description of operations, check out We are attempting to duplicate this operation as best as we can.

         Additional staging has been installed at Albia. This consists of a double mainline loop at the end of Albia yard. The loop includes a low backdrop. Inside the backdrop are six stub ended staging tracks. This addition has the added benefit of reversing through trains arriving at Albia, so they be backed into staging and ready for the next Operations Session.

         The joint C&NW/CGW industrial switching area known locally as the Swift Line at Marshalltown occupies a 12' x 2' peninsula. Authentic C&NW maps for this area are on hand, courtesy of Vaughn Ward. This will challenge anyone who likes switching, as in the 8 plus city block with eleven switches, both facing and trailing points, there is not one run around track. Track work uses Shinohara #4 turnouts and code 70 flex track. The switching area is as close to prototypical as possible. All industries along this line will be modeled: including foundries, meat packing plants, grain elevators, factories, etc.

         Additional industrial track work has been installed at Albia and operations have commenced.

         The Story City Branch is modeled with the towns of Clemon's Grove and Roland. Roland has a simply but intriguing design with lots of switching for just one run around track and two spurs. This branch became operational as of Nov 2001. The branch connects the mainline at Marshalltown. Motive power was a Ten Wheeler (4-6-0), until an RS-1 was assigned in the 50's.

         Scenery is underway. Half the layout has been ballasted. Some rural scenes have been created and a selection of buildings are in place. Many more need to be built and even designed. Much Scenery still needs to be completed. And of course details are needed everywhere.

         ShenWare Waybills is being learned and industry lists compiled to start generating Computer printed waybills. The NMRA’s OpSig has an extensive industry listing at their website for those who might be interested.

Layout Standards - Most construction, electrical work, scenery, etc. has been done by the owner. The Iowa Central was located in a 30'/26' x 50' basement, which was the sixth location for the original bench work and track work. The IaC has relocated to a new home where the basement measures 28'x52' with alcoves for crew lounge and workbench.

While the benchwork standards have evolved from the beginning (1983), I follow the current standards:

HO scale

Sectional design - for ease in moving

standard sections are 6 ft long and 24" or 30" wide

currently there are 40 sections totaling over 450 sq ft of bench work

average layout height is 54", Mason City is at 50"

backdrop is 24" Masonite painted light blue

Clouds were painted by my wife using stencils from New London Enterprises.

Terrain is painted black or brown using latex paint. The brown is mixed with white ceiling texture paint, which gives a nice texture to the foam.

Current bench work construction is 2" extruded styrene foam (blue or pink board) on an open grid framework of 1x4's

Older sections are traditional plywood/homasote sandwich on L-girder

Current roadbed is 1/4" extruded styrene foam or Woodland Scenics new foam roadbed. I find the WS foam roadbed is quieter, but as it flexes


Track is code 70, handlaid track & turnouts or Micro Engineering code 70 Flex track & #6 turnouts. Some Shinohara code 70 #4 turnouts are used in the Marshalltown 8th industrial area.

Staging & main Yards are mostly code 100, Atlas flex with Peco large turnouts (had the materials on hand). Atlas code 83 flextrack and #6 turnouts has also been used in the most recent Albia additions.

All flex track is installed on the foam using latex caulk. I prefer brown caulk, which gives a nice color under the track. I lay a small bead of caulk, then spread it out, the thinner the better. Then lay the track in place. The caulk begins to dry in minutes, yet is easy to peel up for realignments. I have discovered not all latex caulk is free of volatile ingredients. Where application of caulk was spread a little thick the track has sunk down into the foam, creating a rough leaning track work. This is prototypical for spurs and branches so I have not bothered to relay the track. But I have learned to read labels better and spread the caulk thinner.

Handlaid track is laid on homasote or Homabed. I handlay by spiking the rails to the ties using needle nose pliers or a KADEE spiker. I have hand laid track on the foam by gluing rail to ties. It works, but I am not satisfied. In the future I plan to use Homabed and traditional spikes for any hand laying projects.

Control: DCC

I use Digital Command Control (DCC) for control of all locomotives. My DCC system is EasyDCC by CVP Products (Keith Guiterez). Some components are kits built by me, the owner. In recent years all components are factory assembled.

Decoders are from a variety of manufactures, and include factory installed sound along with owner installed sound.

Currently there are seven walk-around, two stationary, and six CVP radio throttles. The radio throttles are the favorites.

Rolling Stock

Steam is slowly beginning to dominant the railroad as manufactures continue to produce nice running, affordable, engines that fill the needs of the IaC. 2-8-0's and 2-8-2s will be the dominant power, with 2-6-2s. 4-6-0s and 4-6-2s providing additional motive power. Nice quality 1st generation diesel are also prevalent, with Alco RS-1s, EMD FTs,F3s, E7s, and GE 44 tonners, etc. Over 40 locomotives are equipped with DCC decoders. Locomotives can be found from the following manufactures: Lifelike-PK2000, Stewart, Bachman Spectrum, Atlas, Walthers, Model Die Casting, Mantua, Athearn, as well as some early brass. A few odd ball items can be found on the shelves.

Rolling stock includes: scratchbuilt, Accurail, Lifelike, Walther's Train Miniatures, Athearn, Model Die Casting, Central Valley, AHM/Rivarossi, Lionel, Branchline, AMB and others. There are currently close to 500 cars on the layout.


Structures are a mixture of scratchbuilt, kitbashes, wood craftsman kits, plus an assortment of the usual plastic and resin kits. Most have been built by the owner. Several are product reviews done for Railroad Model Craftsman. A few buildings have been built by others. Many more structures are needed, esp flats in industrial areas.


Operating sessions are periodically held. We use a car card waybill system. All car cards, waybills, and related paperwork are patterned after the Old Rail Graphics brand car card system. The design has been modified and all paperwork created on the Iowa Central's main (read home) computer. All car cards are labeled using clear address labels printed with car data via a database inventory of all rolling stock. A fast clock is available, though not used at all sessions. Timetables are still being developed. Data has been entered and waybills are starting to be created using ShenWare's “Waybill” program written by Peter White. His website is:

A dispatcher's desk using a magnetic board with a track schematic is used for tracking train movements. The schematic was done on the computer using a CAD system. Mark Amfar helped created a prototypical TrainSheet which is now being incorporated for use by the Dispatcher.